NATO's top military commander, General Philip Breedlove, said he does not think Russia will invade Ukraine, adding that the Kremlin has other ways to achieve its goals, VOA News reported.
Breedlove told an audience in Ottawa, Canada Monday that he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin will keep doing what he is doing - creating unrest, discrediting the Ukrainian government and stirring up a separatist movement. He predicted Moscow will keep a hold on eastern Ukraine without sending regular troops across the border.
The NATO commander said he is certain Russian special forces are in Ukraine. But he said it is not known if they were the ones who shot down three Ukrainian helicopters with missiles last week.
Earlier Monday, Ukrainian government forces fought gun battles with pro-Russian militants in the separatist-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, a day after pro-Russian protesters stormed the police station in the southern city of Odessa.
Six people have been killed and around 100 wounded, said a Ukraine Security Service spokeswoman. Russia's Interfax news agency quoted a separatist source in Slovyansk as saying that 20 or more pro-Russian militants had been killed in the fighting.
Also, a Ukrainian military helicopter was shot down near Slovyansk on Monday, but the pilots survived, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said.
The helicopter, which came under fire from a heavy machine gun, crashed into a river. The ministry said in a statement the crew were evacuated to a nearby camp but did not give any detail of their condition.
At least three other helicopters have been shot down by pro-Russian rebels in recent days.
Separately, Kyiv drafted police special forces to the southwestern port city of Odessa to halt a feared westward spread of the separatist rebellion.
Ukrainian authorities said the Odessa force would replace local police who had failed to tackle rebel actions over the weekend. Its dispatch was a clear signal from Kyiv that, while dealing with the rebellion in the east, it would vigorously resist any sign of a slide to a broader civil war.